I’ve found street art all over the world including places I knew had a thriving art culture, like Melbourne, Berlin and Miami, as well as places I didn’t expect it from, like Toronto, Porto and my hometown of Atlanta. But I didn’t expect that during a short overnight trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, I would discover street art.
It all started when my sister and I went to visit a friend who had moved to Knoxville to go to school and work in the medical field. We drove up to see her for less than 24 hours and spent most of that time catching up. And we had time to dine at some delicious vegetarian restaurants and wander around a spooky cemetery before an exciting St. Patrick’s Day involving Yazoo brews and old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After last year’s two day bartending bonanza, I was glad to have a laid back night.
On our last few hours in town, we were walking around Market Square when we saw bright colors coming from an otherwise drab alley. Each piece looked like it was done by a different artist, some with spray paints, some with house paints, some with Sharpies. I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole, as I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be there, but was drawn in by the art.
Knoxville can be a rather gritty place, as it still has a fairly high crime rate. But you can tell that it’s a special place to those who live here. Locals proudly sport the phrase “Keep Knoxville Scruffy” after a Wall Street Journal made a disparaging remark about the city during the 1982 World’s Fair. The city hasn’t had much acclaim since then, but you never know when a place will become “in.”
But I think Knoxville is on the rise. It’s becoming a much more hip place for its formerly industrial background and low cost of living. Areas like Old City remind me of many neighborhoods in Atlanta, specifically the Old Fourth Ward. Nearby Chattanooga came from a similar background and was named one of the top places to live by Outside Magazine. So is Knoxville next? I like to think so.